Wednesday, November 23, 2016

never getting off the (under)ground

The JSTOR Daily Digest recently highlighted an article in the history of technology journal ICON, on pneumatic tube systems. The article documents Beach's system in NYC for human transportation, highlighting the social, economic and political reasons it never really got "off the (under) ground".

The article looks great and I have downloaded it to read - if you can't access a copy but would like to read it too, let me know by email and I will forward a PDF through my library.

Image of Beach's system by Scientific American - Scientific American - March 5, 1870 issue, Public Domain,

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

travel by tube "a thing"

The Hyperloop continues to make news and continues to be linked to pneumatic tubes. See the latest in this article in Automobile, which calls the Hyperloop a "series of powerful pneumatic tubes", or the human equivalent of the plastic tubes in bank drive-thrus.

Image from Kevin Krejci's Flickr, used under the Creative Commons lisence.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

posting wishes into the abyss

The London Design Biennale, the first ever, took place over a few weeks at Somerset House last month and lucky visitors were be invited to meet a rather special series of pneumatic tubes. The theme was "Utopia by Design" and what better example of this than the beautifully dystopian/utopian pneumatic tube system.

Archinect reports on Turkey's contribution, the installation in the Biennale of The Wish Machine, by Istanbul based Autoban: a tunnel made of transparent hexagonal pneumatic tubes. The tubes are situated in a mirrored space, amplifying the effect of the multiple passages of the messages that are passing through. Visitors have a chance to write their own notes, their own hopes and wishes for a utopian future and feeding them into the Wish machine. Just like throwing coins into a wishing well, the final destination of these notes will remain a mystery.

The website reports that the installation was "inspired by the cultural tradition of threading a note or momento to the branch of a tree as an act of hope born out of hopelessness".

Thanks to Jess for first letting me know about this!

Unfortunately I cannot find any images from the exhibition which are free to share (please let me know if you have any!). There are however lots of great images on the online platform Archinect, as well as De Zeen.

The installation was at the Design Biennale 7th to 27th September 2016.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

sent via atomic fairies and unicorns

Plenty of pneumatic tubes have been captured on Kodak film, although unlike today's camera, the smartphone, it would have been difficult to make the kind of videos I reported on last week with a film camera.

It turns out that Kodak was using pneumatic tubes themselves, but for a very strange purpose - to transport nuclear tests as late as 2006. They had their very own nuclear reactor which was housed in a "closely guarded, two-foot-think concrete walled underground bunker in the company's headquarters" in Rochester New York, according to this Gizmodo report. Reminiscent of the fantastical contemporary art installation in Paris recently, it was "fed tests" by pneumatic tube system, with no employees ever making contact with the reactor. In a sarcastic wink to the fact that humans are always mixed up with technologies, Gizmodo report that apparently the system must have been operated by "atomic fairies and unicorns".

Thanks again to Long Branch Mike for sharing with me another fascinating piece of pneumatic tube pneus.

Flickr image by Asja Boros used under the Creative Commons lisence.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

smart hospital

When the University of Virginia hospital had problems with some of their blood samples in their pneumatic tube system, they turned to one of the most increasingly ubiquitous and handy tools so many of us now have at our disposal: the smartphone.
Using their old smartphones' accelerometer to assess the forces acting on the blood samples during transit, a clinical chemistry postdoctoral fellow and a professor of pathology conducted an experiment. With one smartphone taking recordings and the other shedding light on the video, they sent their phones through the hospital's system. The footage was revealing - the longest track of tube was the problem, and they found frothiness and bubbles which dissipated soon after arrival. They concluded that the smartphone was a great way to monitor such systems.

The pneumatic tube experiment has been written up in the journal Clinical Chemistry. You can find the video footage which supplements the article here. Could this be the first time that tube cam footage has been submitted as scientific evidence??

Read more in the UVA Today article.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

pneumatic waste collection meet-up

You may want to consider a trip to beautiful Barcelona this November if you are a pneumatic tube enthusiast, particularly one interested in the ins and outs of trash disposal.

The International Pneumatic Waste Collection Association Conference is to be held on 16th November, as an official side event of the Smart City World Expo Congress. More information on their website.

Image my own.

Monday, September 12, 2016

99% pneumatic

In the midst of sorting out which podcasts I want to listen to during my late summer holidays, I thought I would share a recent one from a great site, 99% invisible, on the incredible pneumatic fish cannon - enjoy!

Image from treehugger.

Friday, August 19, 2016

a pneumatic experiment

Paris loves pneumatic tubes. For decades they used to send love letters (and bills) through the vast networks under the city. Today, pneumatic tubes find themselves in all sorts of interesting places, including contemporary art galleries. I had previously missed Shultz's installation in the foyer of Palais de Tokyo, but had no idea I would have a second chance to see some pneumatic tube art in this wonderful gallery on the banks of the Seine.

Wandering through a maze of bizarre settings and videos by the artist Mirka Rottenberg, my dear friend Pamela and I were having great fun with the swishing ponytails and videos of weird pearl and fast food productions. We came then to a room which had some multi-coloured terry towelling dressing gowns, and we sat down to have a look at the scientific apparatus on our right, and a large video on the wall.

What appeared before us was a crazy pneumatic tube experiment. In some unnamed dessert, a single man walked for what seemed like hours, into the dust. He stopped at a point and brought out a pneumatic tube carrier, taking a sample of the dry earth.

He makes the long walk back then to the sampling headquarters, a small hut where a group of men in overalls are gathered. One takes the tube and sends it off in his machine ...

On the other installation screen, above scientific looking equipment, we see where the tube has headed - to a bizarre scientific laboratory where one can only imagine the kinds of work that is going on.

The exhibition is an re-enactment of a series of performances and an installation that was shown at Performa 11 in New York City (you can watch the video here). For this installation, called SEVEN, Mika Rottenberg collaborated with Jon Kessler. Visitors got to wear the multi-coloured robes and possibly participate in the experiment. Actually judging from the photos of the Paris show, from this gallery here, we should have also donned the robes!

Well they say you never know what you are going to find in Paris, but it never ceases to astound me the number of pneumatic tube discoveries to be found there, in the city of air.

Images from exhibition my own.

For my other posts on Paris, see one on the sewer system, museums, the Dreyfus affair and petit bleus

Friday, August 12, 2016

airing the dirty laundry

I visited Stanford University the other week for the first time. I met an inspiring doctor and educator there, Errol Ozdalga, who is part of the Stanford 25 program, as part of my new research. I saw the beautiful eucalyptus trees that reminded me of Australian university campuses. I watched undergraduates play with Virtual Reality sets in the luxurious campus shopping mall.

But what I didn't see unfortunately were those famous Stanford pneumatic tubes.

Nonetheless, I still have an update from the Stanford Medical Centre for you. The hospital is soon to not only transport blood and other clinical samples by pneumatic tube, but also their recycling and laundry too.

More and more of the material products in circulation in hospitals are going behind the walls and in ceilings, rather than on trolleys and carts. I have already written about pneumatic waste disposal systems under cities - whether the Stanford model for pneumatically transporting waste and laundry will now also become the mainstay for hospitals too is yet to be seen.

One thing is for sure though, this airing out of the dirty laundry will certainly will add some extra grit to the next Stanford pneumatic tour!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

postings from Hong Kong

When we went on holidays as a family, we always used to joke that my architect father took more photos of buildings that he did of us. Of course, there were plenty of photos of us all, but now my appreciation of his building shots has taken on a whole new level with this image of a human pneumatic tube system he sent me the other day from a holiday in Hong Kong.

Friday, July 29, 2016

pneumatic bread

I've just been to San Francisco, which stakes claims to being one of the sourdough bread capitals of the world. Coming from Melbourne, where sourdough is also raised on a pedestal as an art form, I was intrigued to try some of the best. I tried several loaves, from the touristy sourdough factory on Fisherman's Wharf, to a line-up and queue little bakery on the other side of town.

The bread was good, but where I really discovered something different, was at the SciFoo conference I was attending a few days later at Google in Palo Alto. There I found bread which had been raised to new heights, not through artisanal techniques, but rather, pneumatic technology.

As part of an MIT winter course, Lining Yao was teaching students how to design pneumatic food. Playing with the puffy qualities of fermenting bread dough, the instructors had already experimented with a food plotter that cut the dough into a designing shape, as well as a pneumatic system to blow air into the food. Here are some of the results of those experiments.

Through hands-on-learning the students in the class also experimented with pneumatic food of different kinds such as cheese and sugar. I know this is a bit of a stretch from pneumatic tube systems, but I just couldn't resist sharing these beautiful pneumatic food creations with you.

Images from

Saturday, July 23, 2016

running outdoors

Long Branch Mike has alerted me to another amazing pneumatic tube system - the one running underneath Indiana University Health's People Mover, which connects several hospitals in Indianapolis.

These outdoor hospital tubes are pretty impressive - they remind me of riding the monorail to Disneyland as a kid. The gaps in the rails are designed to prevent the collection of snow. Although as Mike wonders, how do they keep the tubes from freezing in the winter? Must investigate.

Image by Dina Wakulchik from Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - Clarian Health Partners People Mover, CC BY 2.0,

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

how iphones helped solve a medical mystery

While hospital pneumatic tubes work well a lot of the time, sometimes there are mishaps - contents of containers might spill for example, or objects get stuck, or blood samples clot. There are all kinds of ways of finding out the problem spots in pneumatic tubes - I am currently writing a book chapter on how sound is used for example. But today I wanted to write about another method used recently at the University of Virginia - the iphone repair method.
Two pathology professors at the university theorised that it may be due to points of high pressure that there were problems and sent two iphones through their hospital tubes to check. One phone had a sensor app and a light source and the other recorded the journey of a blood sample. The footage surprised them - the blood's journey was like a blender, "like you are mixing a margarita". The hospital no longer sends their blood on long journeys to avoid the cocktail-effect.

You can read more and listen to the story here, on WVTF public radio.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

shoe tubes

I bought my first pair of Nikes when they started knitting them. But I would have bought a pair earlier if I had known they would have been delivered by "shoe tubes"!

Read more here in the Baltimore Sun.

Thanks once again for another wonderful pneumatic tube tip Patryk! Image of shoe tubes in Niketown from Honolulu Star article.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

part victorian, part jetsons

"The dream of the pneumatic tube will never die" ....

And so begins a carefully and beautifully collaged video of pneumatic tubes by Vox - watch til the end to see what they did with the goldfish!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

London pneumatic tube talk in August

Mike Oliver, AKA Long Branch Mike, will present the London Pneumatic Despatch Railway at the London Underground Railway Society (LURS) on Tuesday August 6. His talk will include an overview on pneumatic tubes development.

"London's Lost Pneumatic Railway: The World's Second Oldest Underground Service" with Mike Olivier.

Doors open at 18:40 for a prompt 19:15 start

The Upper Room
Allsouls Clubhouse
141 Cleveland Street
London W1T 6QG

Great Portland Street Tube on the Metropolitan, Circle, and Hammersmith & City

Saturday, March 19, 2016

straight to perfumery

I saw a trailer for the movie Brooklyn the other day and thought I glimpsed a gorgeous set of brass pneumatic tubes in the department store where the main character is working. I am off to the movies with friends on Wednesday to check! And let me know if you have seen any too. In the meantime, here are some tubes in the perfumery department of the old Myer in Melbourne to enjoy.

Image from WeekendNotes, as seen at Myer Mural Hall open day.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

nothing funnier than an arm stuck in a tube?

Who doesn't love a bit of slap stick comedy, especially when a pneumatic tube is involved? While some unlucky Tesco manager managed to get their arm stuck in a tube unwittingly, the witty characters of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Hitchcock and Scully pulled the stunt for laughs on the show's episode "Ava". The sounds of screams echoed through the hospital's tubing ...

Read more on Fourthmic News for Comedy Nerds.

Thanks @steveDsmart for the link!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

secret parliament tunnels

Canberra, the capital city of my home country Australia, has a reputation for orderly design. This is not only in the carefully orchestrated public spaces and streets above ground, but below ground too. Recently, the curious ABC Canberra reporters Sonya Gee and Matthew Arnaudon went searching for Canberra's secret underground spaces and found traces of the old parliamentary pneumatic tubes.

The tubes connected Parliament House and Defence, as a safe and secure way to transport important documents. The curious reporters travel into the underground tunnels where the tubes lie and receive a demonstration of how the tubes worked. You can read more about the canberra tubes and their museum displays in my previous posts, here and here.

Many thanks to the Canberra-based comic illustrator Stuart McMillen for sending me details of this ABC report!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

above above ground

Plans are afoot for even more pneumatic tubes in New York City, already home to the Roosevelt Island tubes and the Hudson Yards developments, as well as many others in the world of fiction and cinema. This time it is the High Line which might be tubed for waste disposal, quoted in The Atlantic's CityLab as perfect for such infrastructure considering that "the tube could be strung along the bottom of the viaduct, avoiding any need to tunnel through streets".

Image of the High Line used under Creative Commons lisence from David Berkowitz's Flikr page.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

cash slips and mugs of tea

Wonderful video below by Mike Taylor of the Lamson Pneumatic Tube System at Jacksons of Reading, documenting the cash exchange system of the department store which amazingly operated until 2013 when the store closed. Great sounds, scenes of cash being exchanged amongst mugs of tea and stacks of paper. At the end of the film you learn about Robin Adcroft and Thomas Macey's plans to re-enact this system which they had worked with for years at the store and later bought at auction.

Thanks very much to Mike Olivier for sending me this video!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

slow speed

Pneumatic tubes and pneumatic-tube inspired trains such as the Hyperloop are often all about speed and efficiency. Since the invention of trains, designers have wanted them to go faster and faster. There is a photoessay on these fast trains for those interested here.

But fast is not always best. Germany's new ICE trains are in fact slower than the predecessors, but more energy efficient. Slower trains also made me think of an unforgettable trip from Tokyo to Sapporo on the slow, overnight train, Hokutosei.

My husband and I bought the last sleeper tickets available when we arrived in Tokyo, the transaction seemingly impossible from Melbourne. The gorgeous midnight blue train with golden trim was waiting patiently at the station the day of our departure. We had to make our way through a little collection of train enthusiasts, long lens cameras in hand, to board. Inside we found curtained windows, wooden finishes and banker's lights at the restaurant tables, where we sipped on cherry liqueurs and watched the night go by.

I know it is not about pneumatic tubes, but sometimes it is just nice to travel in the slow lane for a while, rather than be speeding and whizzing along, with those capsules.

p.S. I just found out that the Hokutosei is one of those treasures and joys of travel which have disappeared, the line discontinued in August last year.

Photos my own.

Friday, January 8, 2016

utopian superbuildings

The superhospital is upon us. No, not a hospital for superheroes, nor one that heals lesions with spells like St Mungos, but rather a big big hospital, stretching across and up, networked with dense layers of infrastructure.

Montreal has been long awaiting it's new superhospital, for better or worse, and the wait is now over. The Montreal Gazette reports on the sparkling new facilities, including robotic radiological equipment and "Cyberknives", hybrid operating rooms and yes, of course, pneumatic tubes:
The pneumatic tube system (PTS) doesn't qualify as medical equipment, but it's arguably one of the coolest features of the new hospital ... There is already a smaller such system at the Montreal General Hospital, but the one at the Glen is state-of-the-art and considered the optimum way to transport specimens around a hospital.
The journalist can barely contain their excitement about this "state-of-the-art technology", the coolest addition to the sparkling new superhospital breathlessly discussed.

Many thanks to Long Branch Mike for sending these links!

Image of another utopian megastructure in Montreal, Habitat 67, from AV Design Flikr, under Creative Commons Licence. See the hospital's website for pictures of their system.

Friday, January 1, 2016

fast in an emergency

It took a broken arm unfortunately, to realise how fast things can happen in the Dutch healthcare system. Through a series of relayed messages I went from my GP, to radiology, to emergency before I could open a trashy magazine. Messages travel fast, not only pneumatically. Then look what my husband spied in the emergency department as we waited for my arm to be set in plaster!